We translate words into deeds, and deeds into words; we give voice to the imagined, and put it into practice. We change the world around us. The extent of our reach varies, from a few centimetres to the whole world, even to outer space. From seconds to eternity. In doing so, we act in the image of the four Elements. From Them we were taken, Them we are, and to Them we will return. Knowledge is the existence of the universe. Barren customs and beliefs obstruct access to knowledge (nature). Arriving at knowledge requires transcending social norms and limitations. The trickster embodies primality, and is an archetypal figure defying established norms and rules (customs and beliefs). The character is found in myths, religions, as well as in the real world. The trickster is there to make sure that the cycle of destruction and creation continues to go on. He is bipolar, metaphorical, and beggars description. In the Bible – he is Satan, in Greek mythology – Prometheus. In the Tarot, the trickster figure is called the Fool, Jester, Stranger, or Wanderer, always doing things his way. His number is zero, and so he takes position at the beginning or the end of the deck. The Fool has no master. He can be whatever he wants to be, turning knowledge and power upside down. This is the potential he has.
I spend a substantial portion of early childhood with my father and his friend from a design office. Two engineers give me their unconditional love with mathematical precision. Should one carry me for a while too long, the other darts eloquent glances at his watch. At breaks, they come up with new assignments for me to carry out in the afternoon: find a place for my favourite teddy bear that’s within my reach, or think of some aids to surround me, so I can use them. They leave me no time to get bored, and teach me to walk in less than no time so that we can play football together. They calculate the trajectory of a spoonful of food I send flying, in order to find out which part of the room should be protected against dirtying. The affection I receive from two 30-year-olds is like a universe of positive energy. The energy bolsters my confidence: I am called a devil’s spawn by a nun. I feel proud and singled-out by her. The nun is disconcerted.
I like it at kindergarten. I don’t feel like I’m worse or better than boys. It is not until adolescence that I find out about Freudian complexes, and am forced to internalise them. As a child, I remain undisturbed by binary differences between our small bodies, on the contrary, they stir my imagination, and I fantasise about some in-between forms.
My curiosity is aroused by the head cook, who tells us, every day, what we are having for dinner.
One day, I lie down on the floor, between her legs. It is from here that I want to listen to what we are getting today. They pull me out and tell me off right away, but for what, I cannot say. Nobody cares to explain it to me. Instead, I find out about shame. Many years later, I relate the story to Monika Drożyńska at the opening of the Galeria Szara in Katowice (2016). We re-enact the incident.
Aleka Polis, Monika Drożyńska, Re-enactment of Kindergarten Herstory, spontaneous on-camera performance at the inauguration of the Galeria Szara, 2016. Photo by Karolina Kędziora.
I start primary school, where I have my hands slapped with a ruler time and again for being maladjusted; I hibernate for years to come.
I recover myself in Cieszyn, as I enrol in college. I am fortunate to meet some fellow students who are unlike the others. We find one another before we know it. Nothing is sacred to us, we reject all authority. The police in Cieszyn avoid us like the plague. Days of endless performance, juggling identities, crossing boundaries. I face the threat of being expelled, and am awarded a scholarship for my achievements at the same time. We are asked to leave the dormitory because of our performative activity. Art and life are one. I discover and experience the difference between ordinary time and mythical time related to creation.
In my second year, a friend gives me Barbie and Ken dolls – they become the first actors in my stop motion animation. They pose for my first gender photographs, even though I have not heard the term yet. Their overlapping faces and bodies are perfection. They have since been One to me. “For at that time one race was androgynous, and in looks and name it combined both, the male as well as the female […]”1
Aleka Polis, One (BarbieKen), photomontage, 1998
I use tampons as hygiene products, but I also photograph them – in the form of a white-and-red flag, and make several stop motion animations. Some years later, I immerse used tampons in epoxy resin, making a relic of sorts. I give the title Epitaphs to the work. There are 28 epitaphs, which is the number of days in an average menstrual cycle.
Having completed my studies, I move to Warsaw. I enrol in Gender Studies and pursue my interests.
Aleka Polis, „Epitafia (Okob)”, 1998
I impersonate Bitch, I multiply myself referring to the ancient sculpture of the Capitoline Wolf and honorary decorations awarded to mothers of numerous offspring (Fascist bitch, Communist bitch), and to a family-free independent lifestyle popular in the early 21st century (Capitalist bitch).
Aleka Polis, Bitch, collage, 2003-4
I clone myself and my breasts to feed and nurture the flock of myselves. I inscribe myself in the German and Stalinist orders: Ehrenkreuz der Deutschen Mutter (Cross of Honour of the German Mother) and Mать героини (Mother Heroine). In Nazi Germany and the USSR, mothers received them for giving birth to four children or more. Bitch mother (reproducer), mistreated bitch (whore), conscious bitch (enjoying her life to the full). I cleanse the derogatory term. “You bitch,” says the mother of the priest that seduces Jagna, a protagonist in Władysław Reymont’s novel The Peasants, a character of great importance to me.
Aleka Polis, Jagna, Defender of Pure Lust, from the Holy Pictures cycle, 2004
Bestiary of Subconscious (2003/4)
I experiment with diet and music to evoke sundry dreams. I record my experiences in the form of films, photographs and collages. My cousin gives me some white shirts that used to belong to his father. They inspire the cycle Bestiary of Subconsciousness. The title is a reference to medieval bestiaries: didactic and allegorical, illuminated works representing fantastical/real creatures. I put my legs into sleeves of the shirts, and my arms into trouser legs or dresses. A fish circles between my legs, which are my hands now. It picks red particles of food. It satisfies hunger, and turns its body, which, combined with mine, forms a fish-human hybrid. As the film proceeds, blood appears on the headless torso wearing a white shirt. Is this heroic male blood, or is it embarrassing female menstruation? I symbolically restore the power of male blood to female blood. I transfer it from the sphere of shame into the heroic one, I raise it to the altars.
Aleka Polis, Bestiary of Subconscious, stills, 2003-2004
Aleka Polis, „Bestiarium podświadomości”, 2003/2004
Binary Self-Portraits and Self-Portraits in Man’s Shirt are created. My white and black clothes stand for definite gender identity, the grey in the background stands for in-betweens that cannot be named or imagined. I turn myself into headless hybrid figures. Their sex is meaningless. Androgynous figures resemble the sex-determining X and Y chromosomes. Sexual identity is non-binary, multiple, divisions go on forever.
Aleka Polis, Binary Self-Portrait, from the Bestiary of Subconscious cycle, collage, 2003-4. Photo by Alicja Truszkowska
Lamentations. A men’s white shirt combined with black trousers or a long black dress.
My body wriggles on a pull-up bar, to the rhythm of the drums from Diamanda Galas’s This is the Law of the Plague. I do my best to oppose the binarism on which our civilisation has developed, to seek alternative possibilities.
This cycle also includes Transmutations, abstract prints in white, black and grey, featuring X and Y – the chromosomes that determine our sex. Several years later, I design a chromosomal Gender Puzzle (2010) for children. It allows generation of various combinations of sexual diversities.
Aleka Polis, Transmutations, computer graphics, 2003-4
Aleka Polis, Gender Puzzle, wooden playing blocks, design, 2010
Strings and Marionettes. I pay a call on a friend who has a job in preservation of monuments in Kraków. I find him in a church, busying himself in conserving angels. I dress up and change the position of one of the statues. My friend takes pictures. The cherub is gazing at my crotch like I looked at the cook’s crotch in the kindergarten. It is pulling a red gel cord I bought in a fishing tackle shop. Fishermen use it as bait. I put the map of Poland and Europe in the background, highlighting the year Poland joined the European Union.
Distracting President (2007)
During Lech Kaczyński’s presidency, Monika and I kiss in front of the Belweder Palace, his official residence. Distracting President. I am inspired by orgone – a hypothetical universal life force described by Wilhelm Reich, and the name “Belweder” (Italian belvedere from bello – beautiful, vedere – to see). Our bodies are an “orgone accumulator,” stimulating the flow of orgone. We wish to improve the condition and increase the orgasmic potency of the then authorities, and the Polish nation as a whole. There is no freedom without love. As the Mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczyński banned the Equality Parade. The Parade transformed into several Equality Rallies, which the Warsaw authorities were not able to block.
Aleka Polis, “Rozpraszanie prezydenta”, 2007
Aleka Polis, Ewa Majewska, “Syreny TV”, Parada 2005
I come across my favourite Russian fairy story about the sleeping beauty in my parents’ flat. I cut out the fairies and the princess. I make three erotic collages, in which the princess is awaken from her deadly sleep by a kiss of another princess. The fairies touch each other gently and stare into one another’s eyes, creating intimacy in their relationships.
Aleka Polis, Awakening, collage, 2008
Europa with the Head of Bull (2009/10)
I leaf through a book of Greek myths, and stop at the story of Europa. It is time for a redirection of thoughts. Judith with the head of Holofernes, Europa with the Head of Bull. Europa, who gave the name to our continent, is a Phoenician princess who refuses to be seduced, manipulated, and abducted, and to become dependent on her kidnapper. She is strong, and knows what she wants. She will not have a criminal mess with her. I do it for myself – I want to bring a symbolic end to male violence and domination. I reverse the power relationship and prevent the rape of Europa. I make it possible for her to regain strength.
A photographer friend and I travel to an abattoir in Southern Poland. Before we reach the place, we catch a strange upsetting smell. In the office, they offer us a cup of tea. The stench grows unbearable, despite the open windows. As I descend to the butchery, I feel as if I was entering the netherworld. My body and mind are paralysed by the odour of death. I cross the last sluice with difficulty. I am unable to catch my breath. I pass by flayed animal carcasses, hanging upside-down. They give me a bull’s head. It is big and heavy. I cannot lift it. It is too dead for me to touch it. We take photos. My friend can barely hold the camera. I leave the place, transformed. In Eastern and Mediterranean mythologies, the bull occupied an important role in terms of heroism and fertility. Conquering a bull counted as a heroic initiation. Europa becomes Heroine. “The artist’s vengeance is dedicated to victims of rapes and violence – women accused of witchcraft, insanity, heresy, or burnt at the stake. Their names are featured in one of her works titled Mirror of Simple Souls (2007). They take the form of an endless list unfolding in two opposite directions, one being a mirror reflection of the other. Like an arraignment, the text serves as the background in the photographs from the Trickster project. One of them depicts a bull’s head reflected in the surface of the socle, a double axe covered in blood and the ‘murderer’ wiping sweat from her forehead; the other shows «Europa-Persephone» with red pomegranates, tossing one of them above the bleeding head of her victim in triumph.”2
Aleka Polis, Europa with the Head of Bull, on-camera performance, 2009-10. Photo by Andrzej Paruzel
Aleka Polis, Europa with the Head of Bull, on-camera performance, 2009-10. Photo by Tomasz Kula
Confession Chair (2010)
For the Ars Homo Erotica exhibition, I re-enact and upgrade an earlier piece. I record my visits to the confessional. I confess my homosexualism in a number of churches. Because I refuse to renounce my ‘sin’, I am not granted absolution. I listen to words of disgust, loathe, and aversion whispered into my ear. It is usually lovers who whisper to each other words of desire. Are the confessors’ whispers addressed to the faithful not ambivalent? I create the Confession Chair for everyone to sit on and listen to my confessions. In doing this, I break the seal of the holy confession – I make it public. The Church demands that the work be removed, but Piotr Piotrowski, Director of the National Museum, will not cave in, and the work stays till the end of the exhibition.
Aleka Polis, Confession Chair, installation, 2010
Parkours d’Amour (2011)
Anna Sałata and I immortalise the moment of entering a relationship. We make a film presenting our road to Arcadia, Parkours d’Amour. For us, for this singular moment, for the temple of eternal bliss, for the rest of the world in the largest temple of consumerism in Warsaw. Young and fit, we hold hands, kiss, dance, jump over the fence, carry each other across the streets, bursting with the extraordinary energy of a new relationship. We do not mind workers commenting about our behaviour, people’s looks cannot stop us. It is we who stop other people, we get them into a timeless moment of repugnance, push them out of the reality they know, showing them joyful and brightly coloured otherness. For the next Parkours d’Amour, we go to the Warsaw Uprising Monument, with the Supreme Court and the Garrison Church in the background. We must act promptly. We check how long it takes for the guards to walk around the Court. This is how much time we have to make the film. We lie down under the monument and kiss amid flowers, under rifles and grenades pointed at our bodies. For a moment, we are the Monument to Those who Fell for Being Different.
Aleka Polis, „Parkours d’Amour”, 2011
Tree of Consciousness (2011)
I am intrigued by a maxim on the Supreme Court in Warsaw: “No man should be made responsible for another man’s deceit.” I decide to use it along with one of the perfectly pruned trees by the Court for my next piece. With my partner Anna Sałata, we perform a scene from the Bible for the camera. I hand her an apple, she bites into it. The light passing across the window panes of the Supreme Court offer a climax: the Promethean-Luciferian (lux for light, ferre for to carry) light of enlightenment. The work belongs to the series of “holy pictures,” “one of those that contribute to a different vision of spirituality by emancipating women and female desire, while unmasking the religious-national mechanisms of male power and repression.”3
Aleka Polis, Tree of Consciousness (No man should be made responsible for another man’s deceit), on-camera performance, still included in the Holy Pictures cycle, 2011. Photo by Agnieszka Żechowska
“Fun intertwined with the fear of sanction for inappropriate use of sanctity represents an important aspect of Aleka Polis’s work. With her consecutive projects, the artist ventures into the sphere of the sacred, implying a relationship between the sacral realm and the realm of power.
[…] An act of profanation takes great cunning and reflex. That makes the fun a play with fire, a challenge that requires taking risks, overcoming inner resistance, and the fear of overawing sacrality. […] The surge of excitement at defying a ban (taboo) brings both enjoyment and a sense of catharsis. Purgation results from the fact that the sacred has been genuinely flouted […]. Aleka Polis’s actions take place in the sphere of the sacred, or are directed at religious objects that have status as holy things. This direct confrontation with the sacred realm as part of play has a truly Promethean dimension. It turns out that the fire stolen from the gods adds fuel to the fire of human passion, and simultaneously makes it equal with that which is divine. The act of evening-up and uniting the human with the divine eliminates the religious character of a space designed to uphold the division.”3
Rites. Saviour Action (2011)
Agnieszka Weseli, Agata Chełstowska, and I get married in the church in Saviour Square. Ewa Majewska acts as the priest. I arrange the details right before the action, because I do not know how many people are going to show up. We discuss things and practice movements in the Bastylia Crêperie. There is something to do for everyone. In front of some dozen witnesses, we put rings on our fingers and seal the ceremony with a triple kiss. We leave the place happily, holding hands. Outside, we are showered with ice flakes. Anna Laszuk has recorded Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for us. Our joy is broken when we are told that someone has called the police. We vanish into thin air. The only trace the police are able to secure are rice flakes, for which they have to fight with pigeons.
“That the «Saviour» was elected as the patron of the action and that it took place in his temple was no accident. Aleka Polis has chosen to play a game with the sacred, impersonating the highly ambivalent figure of Prometheus-Saviour and the archetypal trickster figure. The double nature of this character – divine and human – reflect the divine and human nature of Christ the Saviour. Duplication of meanings and representations as part of the artistic game is possible by applying the rule of symmetry and reflection, leading to equalisation of the sacred and the profane. This rule was also followed in the encounter, between the mythical female trinity and the mystical patriarchal Holy Trinity.”3
Aleka Polis, Rites. Saviour Action, 2011, stills
Aleka Polis, „Rytuały. Akcja Zbawiciel”. Przygotowania, 2011
Aleka Polis, „Rytuały. Akcja Zbawiciel”. Ślub, 2011
Fructusa ejaculanta (2012)
Hot spring. Anna Sałata, Agnieszka Weseli, and I wish to slake our thirst. We record the squeezing of juice from Fructosa ejaculanta, a fruit I bought in a sex shop. The act of squeezing induces rhythmical contractions which release the liquid accumulated in Fructosa ejaculanta. We make a toast. The unparalleled taste and smell defy description.
Aleka Polis, „Fruktoza ejakulanta”, 2012
We once again return to Saviour Square. This time, I am with Ewelina Jarosz: “we were on our way back from Plan B. Suddenly, Aleka suggested that we should, as urban partisans, set fire to the rainbow, which I thought was a great idea. We crossed the street. Aleka said that the police would soon be here to get our details. I produced matches and the mobile phone. Several attempts at capturing a lighted match, the rainbow and Aleka’s hand failed. Two police officers came and asked whether we knew what we were doing. We replied that we did and our action was an act of subversion. One of the policeman said that what we did was stupid and we risked a fine of PLN 40,000. Or PLN 13,000 for setting fire to a leaf.
I told him that he didn’t know who we were, and Aleka added we were homosexual. He repeated that it was stupid and if a police car had been passing they would not have seen that I was taking pictures of a person pretending to be setting fire to the rainbow, they would have thrown us to the ground and handcuffed. He also said that our action was recorded by surveillance cameras and would soon activate fire sprinklers, which were there to prevent possible arson. I did my best to point out the absurdity of the situation by emphasising our belonging to feminist circles, and I stressed that Aleka had foreseen all this would happen. The policemen took our details for crossing the street unlawfully. They were very nice and understanding. I wanted a picture with them. They took us safely across the street, bade us goodnight, and we wished them good luck. I expressed my thanks to them for taking care of our rainbow.” (Description is part of the work).
Aleka Polis, Ewelina Jarosz, Conflagration, spontaneous on-camera performance, 2014
„Etwas ganz Anderes” (2015)
A few years ago, Wiktor Zmysłowski and I leave the Komuna Warszawa, we stop by the Vistula. We talk about Pina Bausch, the corporeality of dancers, and our bodies. We focus on breasts. We decide to once again deal with the themes from Transmutations. Etwas ganz Anderes is a term coined by German philosopher Rudolf Otto, denoting the experience of an encounter with the unknown. We make a legal contract. We exchange our breasts. Wiktor receives my female breasts, I get his chest. We make a film and a few photographic collages, then we go to Poznań to sign the contract with a lawyer as our witness. One of the collages makes reference to Hans Memling’s Last Judgement and a Tarot card: the Tower, XVI, Major Arcana. One of the most portentous cards: unexpected complete destruction, despairs at losing something of value. But not for us. The old world is dying before our very eyes. Let a new one appear, adjusted to all, and not only to the privileged majority. Let it be! This surrealist gesture takes us into the domain of identity and gender roles. As situationist ironists, we overturn collective consciousness. (2) Having made the contract, Wiktor and I are free to walk around the city bare-chested. Which of us will be punished for indecent behaviour? It is for the court to decide, provided that someone reports on us.
Aleka Polis, Wiktor Zmysłowski, Etwas ganz Anderes (Tower), 2017
Aleka Polis, Wiktor Zmysłowski, „Etwas ganz Anderes”, wersja 01, 2015, 4’10”
“By using art interventions in her work, Aleka Polis consistently “deactivates the apparatuses of power and returns to common use the spaces that power had seized.” (Giorgio Agamben, “In Praise of Profanation”, translated by Jeff Fort, Log, no. 10, 2007, pp. 23–32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41765153. Accessed 22 Oct. 2020.) She raises to the challenge of extracting the “potential of use” from “all apparatuses.” The artist impersonates the trickster who violates the boundaries of the sacred disregarding risk.”
Warszawa – Karkonosze, August/September 2020
Aleka Polis studied at the Silesian University in Cieszyn, and is currently a PhD student at the University of the Arts in Poznań. Artist. Feminist. Activist. Experimentator.
In her work, Aleka employs such media as video, digital photography, performance, urban guerrilla art, animation, documentaries, objects, and manifestoes. Her artistic collaborations are short- or long-lived.
She translates life into art, and art into life. In her works, she addresses problems related to identity, subjectivity, power, exclusion, and social inequality.
Her creative output includes, amongst others: Bestiary of Subconscious, Matrix, IBM Dedicated, Wartopia, the protest cycle Rosa Rotes, Error in Space-Time, and pre- and post-revolutionary landscapes.
She has participated in numerous exhibitions in Poland and abroad.
In 2004-14, she cooperated with the OBIEG magazine where she founded OBIEG.TV, the first vernissage television in Poland. She has made experimental films presenting exhibition tours by artists and curators.
“Her (post)critical output revolves around identity reconstruction and subjectivity in a space controlled by power in its broad sense. Polisiewicz’s works, created in full awareness of the failed search for critical discourse, open up the space of interpretations unspoiled by propaganda.” (Wikiedia)
1 Plato’s «Symposium», translated by S. Benardete, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2001, p. 19.
2 Agnieszka Żechowska, “Bestia w szponach Europy. O sztuce Aleki Polis”, www.opposite.uni.wroc.pl 2011
3 Agnieszka Żechowska, “Akcja Zbawiciel” i inne profanacje Aleki Polis, www.obieg.pl, 2011
I also consulted the following texts:
Ewa Majewska, “Bestiarium suwerenności w pracach Aleksandry Polisiewicz”, www.obieg.pl, 2006;
Piotr Lisowski, Natalia Wiśniewska: catalogue of the 99,965 exhibition, Galeria Miłość, Toruń.
Ewa Witkowska, “Mutacje Tożsamości”, Exit, 3/2004;
Aleksandra Polisiewicz, Bestiarium Podświadomości, exhibition catalogue, Bytomskie Centrum Kultury, 2004, ISBN 83-920614-5-4, essay by Joanna Turowicz
Translation: Monika Ujma